Ghulam Nabi Azad's resignation from the Congress on Friday marked the most high-profile exit of one of the "Group of 23" (G-23) leaders, who had written to party chief Sonia Gandhi two years ago for a "collective and inclusive leadership" in the organisation, exposing the faultlines in the grand old party.
The G-23, the members of which were lampooned by the party loyalists after their letter became public on August 24, 2020, has virtually disintegrated over the last two years with the resignations of Azad and Kapil Sibal, seen as the prime movers of the initiative, and others such as Shashi Tharoor, M Veerappa Moily and Mukul Wasnik making peace with the high-command.
Leaders such as Jitin Prasada and Yogananda Shastri have also quit the Congress to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) respectively. Prasada is a minister in the Uttar Pradesh government now, while Shastri heads the Delhi unit of the NCP. Former Union minister Anand Sharma, who created a flutter recently by resigning as the chairman of the party's steering committee for Himachal Pradesh, months ahead of the Assembly polls in the hill state, appears to be mending his ways by asserting his loyalty to the Congress.
"It is also necessary that all of us work together towards achieving our common goal," Sharma said, reiterating that he remained a lifelong Congressman. The other signatories to the letter sent to the Congress chief two years ago were Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, Manish Tewari, Milind Deora, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Vivek Tankha, Renuka Chowdhary, P J Kurien, Raj Babbar, Kuldeep Sharma, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Arvinder Singh Lovely, Kaul Singh Thakur, Ajay Singh and Sandeep Dikshit.
While Tankha has been rehabilitated and sent to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh in June, Deora and Tharoor have been given party responsibilities in Maharashtra for the "Bharat Jodo Yatra". Hooda, who is unwilling to cede political space within the Congress in his stronghold of Haryana, recently succeeded in ensuring the appointment of his loyalist Udai Bhan as the party's state unit president.
Wasnik, who did not show much interest in the G-23 activities after their letter to Gandhi became public, was made a member of the Congress Task Force-2024 and later, given a Rajya Sabha berth. Tewari, the Lok Sabha member from Punjab's Anandpur Sahib, has been ploughing a lonely furrow for quite some time, often taking a position that is divergent from the official Congress view on key issues.
Dikshit, the son of former Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit, made a sharp riposte to Azad's resignation letter, reminding the veteran leader that the G-23 move was a "banner of reform, not a banner of revolt". Moily had already dissociated himself from the G-23 last year, while Chavan, a former Maharashtra chief minister and now an MLA, remains on the sidelines in the Maharashtra Congress.